For better or worse, it’s very Muppet-y.
In 2011, when The Muppets resurrected the colorful bunch back into the mainstream (much thanks to Disney), it did so through a heartwarming tale that focused on the forgotten bond between humans and muppets that had been so strong for decades. The human element was a crucially strong point of emphasis. With that movie now in the rearview mirror, Muppets Most Wanted, despite the disappointing title, marks a return to the traditional form that the muppets are known for — slapstick gags, self-referential humor, and a stampede of celebrity cameos. The result is a fun explosion of muppet goofiness with catchy musical numbers, with the human characters reserved for moving the plot along, but nothing more.
I won’t go too far into the plot details because it’s more fun to see Muppets Most Wanted knowing as little as possible. I’ll just say that the story revolves around a European tour, a case of mistaken identity, and criminal heists. Oh, and a barrage of songs! With Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) back at the helm as the film’s music supervisor, and he wrote the songs too, the music is delightfully catchy, hilarious, and spans multiple genres…though no song can match the true comic brilliance of the Oscar winning “Man or Muppet”. Regarding the European tour that the minstrel crew embark upon, it’s fun to see the group on location in a handful of major cities across Europe. Plus, it’s a fine way to appeal to international audiences.
Like The Lego Movie, Muppets Most Wanted boasts such a hoard of celebrity cameos (though on screen here, as opposed to just voices in Lego), you’ll have to stay through the credits just to identify them all. Many cameos last a brief three seconds, literally. This, along with other factors, contributes to the “sequel-itis” tone in which too much is being crammed into one movie. Granted, the Muppets do humorously address this exact issue in the film’s opening number – a joke much appreciated for its meta significance.
And so, like a great many sequels before it, the sense of heartwarming wonder and honest character connections is replaced by fast paced jokes and an overloaded cast. But, if there’s one thing the Muppets have always been quite capable of doing, it’s managing a large cast in surprisingly efficient fashion. No characters in Muppets Most Wanted overstay their welcome. Some muppets are at the foreground of the plot, while others stay only in the backdrop, popping up on occasion for a witty remark or sight gag. Any joke that misses the mark is quickly forgotten. It’s a shame that the jokes are more or less forgotten once the movie is over anyway, save for a few Animal moments and the exchanges between Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell (Modern Family), who plays a hysterically inept French Interpol agent.
As with every family film, a gooey message on friendship, etc. is tacked onto the final act. If there were more buildup to this moment, it would be more impactful, but as it is, it’s nothing too unfamiliar or unwelcome. Messages like these should be heard. And how like the Muppets that really is — to be increasingly familiar and welcome — and helping to bring us all, humans and muppets, together again, again.
Muppets Most Wanted opens in Bay Area theaters today, March 21st.